U.S. not prepared for bioterror decontamination, study says

A recent assessment in the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism sponsored by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has revealed that responsibility on the federal level for decontamination after a bioterror attack would be extremely hard and that the lines of responsibility are not clear.

Current decontamination policy and technical practices on the federal level were examined by researchers from the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC in determining gaps that could hamper response to a future large-scale bioattack.

Primary responsibility for decontamination after an attack would fall to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. Roles and responsibilities, however, are not clear, overlap or are underfunded.

The assessment also raises the question of technical and scientific issues that could hamper decontamination, including questions about the risk of aerosolization, the federal standard for decontamination and even how clean a decontaminated site must be to be considered safe.

The article's authors also note that there are not enough personnel are trained in the process of decontamination among the agencies tasked with it, including at the private contractor level. Additionally, the authors ask how government agencies and private building owners drawing on the same limited pool of decontamination personnel would be strain the system after an attack.

The assessment recommends that the DHS clarify federal roles and responsibilities and that Congress increase funding for decontamination research. The assessment also calls for additional investment in personnel.